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About this Article
Written by: Brandi Henry
Written on: July 1st, 2001
Tags: building & architecture
Thumbnail by: Sagum/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Brandi Henry was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California.
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Volume I Issue III > The Petronas Towers
The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are not only some of the world's tallest buildings, but also give insight into the advancements of architectural technology. Both the obvious and obscure elements of this structure illustrate its role as a precedent for skyscrapers of the future. The buildings are marveled not only for their great height but also for their practicality and usability. Primarily used for office space, these buildings are examples of the ever-changing workplace. The combination of the towers' architectural design and structure, integrated with its communications and security systems, demonstrate the significance of engineering in all aspects of its production.

Background on the Towers

Sagum/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: The Petronas Towers tower over the city of Kuala Lampur at 378 meters in height.
Completed in 1997, each of the Petronas Towers rises to 378 meters in 88 stories and contains over 4.6 million square feet (Fig. 1) [1]. Because of the pinnacles that sit atop each tower, their total height is 452 meters, surpassing Chicago's Sears Tower by about 10 meters, thus giving the Petronas Towers the title of the tallest buildings in the world as of 2001. [Editor's Note: At the time of this article's publication, the Petronas towers were the tallest buildings in the world. In 2010, the Burj Khalifa replaced the Petronas Towers as tallest buildings, standing at 828 meters.]
The towers are connected at floors 41 and 42 by a two-story sky bridge, which spans 58.4 meters and rises 170 meters above the ground [1]. The structures are used primarily for office space and are home to Petronas, Malaysia's state-owned oil company, and other international corporations. The buildings also contain a concert hall for the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in addition to two Muslim prayer rooms. The buildings took over five years to complete with construction costs topping 800 million dollars.

Exterior Design

The towers were designed by the architectural firm of Cesar Pelli and Associates. Due to the prevalent Islamic culture of Malaysia, Pelli chose a geometric pattern common to Muslim heritage. The pattern consists of two rotated squares, with circle infills where the squares intersect. This geometric figure has been described by architects as symbols of "unity, harmony, stability and rationality - all important principles of Islam" [1]. The circular pattern rises consistently to the top of the building, while getting smaller and smaller in circumference. There are also two smaller, 40-story circular bustles attached to each building for additional office space.

Construction of the Towers

After the initial design by the architects, structural engineers were called in to determine how the structures were to be actually built. This process included deciding on the building site, what materials to use, and the method of construction.
Before construction began, the structural engineers performed site tests to ensure that the buildings, which had an estimated weight of over 300,000 metric tons, would have a good foundation. During these examinations, they found that the original site contained an underground cliff that made it unsuitable for building.
With extra work and expense, the towers could have been built on this site, but the engineers predicted that in years to come, the towers would begin to tilt. They then decided on a site, 60 meters southeast of the original, where they could develop a more stable, uniform foundation [2].
Each building's foundation was set from 55 to 130 meters underground and contained individual supports surrounded by a mixture of sand and cement. The supports were then filled with a concrete mixture created especially for this project. This concrete was continuously poured for over 52 hours to ensure stability and a smooth finish. The process of excavating the site and laying the foundation took about a year to complete [3].